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    Clearing the air

    Clearing the air

    St Jude quit-line counselors seek to curb smoking in cancer survivors

    Although St. Jude is known worldwide for its work with pediatric cancer, the hospital is also proactive in ensuring that childhood cancer survivors maintain healthy lifestyles throughout adulthood. The department of Epidemiology and Cancer Control has received a five year National Cancer Institute grant to establish the St. Jude Cancer Survivors Tobacco Quit Line to assist the 18 percent of childhood cancer survivors who smoke.

    Launched in November 2008, the study consists of two different interventions. One thousand participants are being recruited for random assignment into a counselor-initiated group or a self-paced group. In the counselor-initiated group, St. Jude counselors phone participants six times during an eight-week period. The counselors assist in preparing for quitting, setting a quit date and assisting with relapse prevention after participants quit. Those in the self-paced group receive the same intervention but are responsible for phoning the quit-line counselors. All participants receive nicotine-replacement therapy in the form of patches or gum.

    “We try to personalize the plan to each individual participant because not everyone is experiencing the same problems with smoking,” says Charla Folsom, the study’s lead clinical research associate. “When we do a counseling session with participants over the phone, we try to see what situations are the hardest for them and devise a plan to help with those situations.”

    Folsom and counselors Tiffany Cross and Andrea Durham staff the confidential line from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays. The counselors all have advanced degrees and professional experience in public health, using their backgrounds to assist each caller. Folsom previously worked smoking cessation lines at the University of Memphis Center for Community Health, where she was involved with studies on the general population and a special population study for the elderly.

    Robert Klesges, PhD, the study’s principal investigator, says establishing a quit line for cancer survivors was necessary because of the growing number of smokers and the unique medical and psychological problems that only trained counselors can handle.

    “Think about all the things that can affect a cancer survivor’s health—genetics, biochemistry, the cancer treatments they had as children,” Klesges says. “Having cancer survivors call in to individuals who know the unique problems they face gives them comfort and assistance in their cessation efforts.”

    Recruiting for the study is achieved through brochures and letters sent to participants in the St. Jude Life and Long Term Follow-Up studies and the ACT clinic at St. Jude. Folsom has also attended oncology conferences in Atlanta and Denver for recruitment purposes.

    Folsom says at the conclusion of the study, a permanent quit line will be implemented at St. Jude based on the results gathered from the two groups.

    Reprinted from Corridors magazine Spring 2009